The other day one of the fathers in my congregation told me a story about when his son was younger. If he would come to Church and fail to spot me he would query his father where the “sermon” was. He equated me with the sermon. That is a real dilemma, of course, because we are told that we ought not to preach ourselves. Had I followed his son’s reasoning I would have been speechless.
What prompted this father to recount this story was his little girl’s comment that Sunday morning when she came into the Church building. Looking for me and not seeing me, she asked her father where God was.
You might think the girl is on shakier ground than her brother in describing her pastor. But she might intuitively be grasping, and is unwittingly expressing something significant about the Christian ministry: when a minister preaches the Word of God, God himself is speaking. Remember how the first chapter of the Second Helvetic Confession (Of the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God) states it:
THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD IS THE WORD OF GOD. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still true and good.
The basis for this audacious claim is the Word of God itself. I’m referring to a number of passages sprinkled throughout the New Testament that speak of the Lord Jesus Christ preaching long after his glorious ascent to his Father’s right hand. For example, in Ephesians 2:17 the Apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord Jesus came to the Ephesians and preached peace to them so that Jews and Gentiles might be reconciled to one another and both to God. We know Christ’s body is not ubiquitous so how did he come and preach to those Gentiles? He preached by his Holy Spirit through his apostles.
Paul expressed the point even more explicitly in Romans 10. There he addresses the need for the preaching of the gospel so people might call on the name of the Lord and be saved. The ESV renders Romans 10:14 this way: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The ASV (1901) leaves out the preposition of resulting in this translation: “. . . and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard?” Many commentators favour translating the relative pronoun as denoting the person who is heard rather than the message that is heard (Stott, Hendriksen, Dunn, Murray, Morris). The one people are to believe in is the one preaching to them. Leon Morris, in his commentary on Romans, explains the sentence like this: “The point is that Christ is present in the preachers; to hear them is to hear him (cf. Luke 10:16), and people ought to believe when they hear him.”
The apostles learned this from Christ. In John 10:16 he spoke about the other sheep who must be brought into the sheepfold of his grace. How will these elect sheep come in? By hearing Christ’s voice. How will they hear Christ’s voice? When those he sends preach the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-22). In fact, Jesus identifies himself so closely with those he sends he can say, “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld” (John 20:23). Through his appointed and Spirit anointed ambassadors Christ declares God’s name to his brothers (Hebrews 2:12).
Admittedly, Christian ministers today aren’t apostles. Indeed not. But nor has Christ been muzzled for almost 2000 years because of the passing of the apostles. Christ still speaks today. When ministers proclaim the Scriptures they are carrying out an apostolic ministry and Christ preaches through them. When ministers preach the word of God, Christ preaches.
A Colossal Consideration
This is weighty. It’s weighty for those who listen to the preaching of the Word. They have a holy obligation to receive the word preached, not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
It is also weighty for ministers of the gospel. We speak for the exalted Christ so that people hear him and believe in him. This consideration addresses the content of our preaching. We must preach the Scriptures, inspired by the Spirit of Christ. The pulpit is no place for human opinions or flights of fancy. We must be able to say about our preaching, “This is what Christ is preaching to you today.”
But the thought that we speak for the exalted Christ also bears upon the communication of our content. We shudder to think that we might distract people from hearing Christ. We want them to forget about us. We really want them to see no-one but the Lord Jesus and to be amazed at the gracious words that come from his lips. We who are ministers are Christ’s mouthpiece, the mic of our Master, so that through us his people hear him. We are the microphone. He is the voice. They see us. They hear him.
Had the Lord Jesus not promised us his presence and purchased for us his Spirit who would dare to preach again?Tweet